Title: The Path
This story is part of the Glimpses of Ben Series.
He stood backed up against the tree, thick curls of dark hair falling about his eyes. His small hand held his compass tightly as his other hand grasped the top of his pack at his side. The early spring sun filtered down through the branches to light his face. He wiped a trembling hand across his brow and picked up the pack at his feet and slung it over his shoulders. He carefully put the compass in his jean pocket and started the long walk he knew was ahead of him. He guessed he had a very long walk in front of him, but he was unsure of the exact distance he would have to travel.
Stopping an hour later, he drank from his canteen and removed his heaviest layer of clothing, the large parka his grandmother made he wear when he left the cabin. Little did she know that he had used the cover of the parka to remove everything he needed from the cabin for this trip. He guessed it would be many hours before they realized he had provisions and supplies with him. Worrying his grandparents wasn't what he wanted to do but his little 7-year-old heart was drawing him somewhere else. He had to make the effort. His dreams were leading him, and memories he could not forget.
The trail before him led up to the low mountains pass and down again into the next valley. That's where he wanted to be, he needed to be in that next valley. He trudged stalwartly up the path, well worn by his Inuit friends for centuries. Every once in a while he would stop, take a drink, check his compass heading and then continue on his way. By noon his stomach was growling and he stopped to set down his pack. Removing a small bag from it, he chomped on some dried meat he had hidden away from his Grandparents. Before the sun was high overhead, he completed his harsh little meal and gathered his things up again and followed the path again.
He knew he had to make the top of the path soon or be on this side of the mountain in the dark. He was grateful to his father who had recently taught him to start a fire alone in the dark. He knew he wouldn't be afraid out here; he had his piece of flint right in his pocket.
Soon he had made it to the top of the path and was sure he would make his destination before nightfall. A smile brightened his expression and his eyes shown with determination. His seven-year-old legs were tired and cramped, his pack felt heavier than when he had begun. But he kept walking. Near the top he found a long stick about 4 inches around, he picked it up and used it to lean on once in a while as he got closer and closer to the top of the path. He stopped to listen to the quiet forest around him, noting the height of the sun in the sky. His stomach felt sick as the sweat started to run down his fair skinned face, but he began the ascent again.
Near the top of the path, the ground became rockier and the trees thinned out a bit. But the small boy didn't notice, his eyes were focused on the peak above him. Reaching the top, he stood on his toes and looked down to the right far below him. He could just make out the cabin roof that he sought. A brighter smile light his face and he began the descent into the valley below.
Soon he was nearing the cabin as the sun began dropping below the trees. He quickened his pace and kept right one. It wasn't long before he was seeing all the old familiar sights he had missed for so many months. He threw his young shoulders back and straightened his posture. Then he marched down the final bit of path that led to the cabin. The boy imagined the smell of smoke and cooking and hurried along the last steps to the cabin. He set his pack down and began to tremble as he climbed the cabin steps. Putting his hand out he tried to begin to pull the door open.
He was surprised when the door suddenly gave way and fairly flew open. A large, male figure loomed before him dressed in red serge and high boots. The man knelt down and grabbed the boy quickly to him then thrust the boy back a step before returning to stand with military correctness in front the child.
The boy sniveled a bit and wiped away the tears from the corners of his eyes and stood with exactly the same military precision as the man before him.
"Why'd you make the trip without telling your elders boy?"
"Because I had to, I had to make the dreams stop." Was the forthright answer.
"Do you know how badly you've worried your grandmother?"
The man judiciously used a hand to wipe a tear from his own eye before the boy saw it.
"Well, Benton. Get yourself into this cabin and sit down quietly while I call you grandmother on the radio."
"Yes sir." The boy entered the cabin and looked around at its emptiness. He had hoped to find something here to take back with him. He had wanted to find something of his mother here to hold on to at night, something to treasure. But the cabin looked empty and bare. He sat forlornly on the chair by the window and looked out into the forest.
His little chest began to quiver with the tears he held inside. But he was determined his father should not see them. The man who was the boy's father watched his son survey the room out of the corner of his eye. He knew what his son was there for, knew what the boy needed. He needed the same thing.
"Yes, mother. He's fine, just a little tired. No, I won't be bringing him back tonight. There are some things I need to do here, we'll be back in the morning." Robert Fraser of the RCMP turned off the radio and stood watching the back of his son's head.
"Hungry Boy?" he asked.
"Fine then. I'll fire up the old stove and make us some oatmeal." He turned and went out the cabin door for a few minutes to purposely leave the boy alone in the cabin. Robert went to the old woodpile and began gathering enough wood for a cook stove fire in his arms.
Benton surveyed the room that used to be his entire world and sat still dreamily remembering his mother making him a meal at stove his father was going to use. He rose and walked slowly around the bare room. When he neared the stove, he saw something shinny on the cabin floor. He bent and picked up the little, fingernail sized locket lying there. His hand shook and he opened it hoping to see a picture of his mother inside. He was surprised to see that the locket held a baby picture of himself and a picture of his father.
His father's shadow fell upon the wood floor as he entered the cabin carrying the firewood. Benton dropped his hand with the locket and stepped back out of his father's way. He knew his father was mad at him. When the wood was in the stove and beginning to glow with the first fire it had held in sometime, Benton approached his father and gently put out his hand.
"I found this by the stove." The boy bit his lip, but something told him he was doing the right thing. "I think perhaps you might want it."
Robert looked down at his son's hand and his breath stuck in his throat. "Thank you kindly, Benton." he said as he took the locket he had given Caroline at the birth of their son out of Benton's hands. "Your mother treasured this, I don't know how it got left behind." Robert moved nervously and knelt before the boy and looked him squarely in the eyes. "Are you sure, boy?"
"Yes sir, I'm sure." Benton the child for a moment looked like the adult he would become, but his lips trembled.
"Well then, let's get ready to eat shall we." Robert pulled the boy to him and smothered him in a bear hug before turning and opening his own pack and getting out the things he needed for their meal.
As they sat over their oatmeal a short time later, Robert again surveyed his son's quivering lips. "You can't go back son. You can never go back. Looking back causes too much pain sometimes. You have to stay on the path to tomorrow and not look back down the path at yesterday. You do what's right and you live your life the best way you can. But you can't go back. Do you understand Benton?"
"I'm not entirely sure sir." Benton replied.
"Well, someday you will. Someday you will. They finished their oatmeal in silence.